Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2021
Repent and Believe the Good News
Biblically, the wilderness means two things. First, it means a place where the Israelites encountered God, enjoyed an intimate relationship with Him and were confronted by God when they sinned against Him. Second, it is a place where the Israelites suffered, felt the absence of God, were tempted, and turned their back on God and worshipped idols. Saint Augustine said the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness simply teach Israel and all of us how to live intimately with God in, and through our wildernesses without giving in to the temptations around us.
Jesus’ victory over Satan in the wilderness announces our victory. Thus, we are called to repent of our ways so that we can key into the victorious way of Christ. This is the Good News. It is the evangelion, the proclamation that Christ is Lord. He is the Lord even of the wilderness. He has overcome the wild beasts that howl in the wilderness and torment souls to give up on God and worship false gods. He is the Lord even of our own wildernesses. And as Lord, He is calling us to repent and believe the Good News – that changes who we are and how we live our lives.
There three stages of repentance. The first stage is conviction. Repentance is not a work of wilfulness. No one repents out of his or her own volition. We repent because God the Father in Christ Jesus has found us. God comes to us as the light of the world, exposing the darkness and the ugliness of sin. He comes to us showing us how sin is a counterfeit good. This was the story of Saul, the man who later became Saint Paul. For what we know, Saul had always seen his act of persecuting Christians as something good. His zeal for the Lord justified his action.
But his action was a counterfeit good. He only realised this when the light of Christ shone on him on his way to Damascus. It was only then that he was convinced that what he was doing was not only wrong, but evil. And from that moment, Paul changed from being wilful of what he wanted to achieve for the Lord to being mindful of what the Lord wanted of him and where the grace of the Lord was at work in and around him. This shift in perspective and the change of lifestyle is the result of the first stage of repentance. We tune in to God and His presence.
The second stage of repentance is renunciation. God does not just convince us of the wrong we do. He helps us to renounce the wrong. For Paul, God took him through a season of training where he had to be under the care and supervision of an experienced Christian called Ananias. It was through Ananias that Paul underwent his journey of renunciation of his sins. Paul’s blindness becomes a metaphor that tells us something about this process of renunciation. It simply says that renunciation only kicks in when we are convinced that what we are doing is dark and ugly.
Acts 9 is a very dramatic conversion story of Saint Paul. It says when Ananias laid his hands on Saul, Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit, and immediately scales fell away from his eyes and he was able to see again. This image of scales falling off Saul’s eyes is the image of renunciation. The old ‘seeing’ is falling off, making way for the new. Paul is now parting ways with Saul. He is now a new creation, being recreated by God for the true good. He can see the true good again, the original of good. What was lost to sin and shame has now been restored.
The third stage of repentance is return to God. The classical definition of repentance is the change of mind – metanoia. It is a change of the mind that was once caught up in evil to a mind that is open to God and His way. Paul after renouncing his sins, returned to God. He moved away from the era of Saul when his worldview was limited to Saul. For Saul could not stand the fact that Christians were converting from Judaism. Saul was prejudiced towards Christians. There is no doubt he was threatened by the presence of the newness that Christianity offers.
But Paul, the man who has returned to God was not limited to the man Saul, but broadened by the limitlessness of God’s wisdom, plan, and purpose. Paul could see the good in Christians. He could see that Judaizers, Christians and Pagans are all brothers and sisters of the One Father, God. Paul could see again, he could see what God had intended the world to be, and how even at his time, God was bringing about the realisation of His original plan in Christ Jesus. Paul’s return to God reveals the possibility of our own return to God. This is the Good News we are to believe. It is the hope that God can convict us, help us renounce our sins and return to Him.